best athletes The Best Athletes of All Time  

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List Rules Open to all amateur or professional athletes in any sport

The greatest athletes of all time: a list of the most dominant, iconic athletes to ever play sports. This list gathers sports stars from across every professional league, as well as amateur athletes who may have never competed professionally, in one overall list. Though it may be challenging to compare performance in a variety of different competitive arenas requiring different skill sets, this list nevertheless attempts to distinguish the top, highest-performing and most successful athletes ever to play. The sports stars that rise to the top can be considered to be the best athletes of all time.

Aspects to consider in picking a best athlete of all time would include, obviously, that player's raw talent and born ability. Some individuals seem to prodigally gifted in their sport of choice, and it's hard to discount the importance of this kind of natural talent. However, it's also important to evaluate hard work, discipline and a commitment to the game. Some athletes may not have the natural, genetic ability to dunk a basketball or hit a home run, but nonetheless have trained to the point of reaching these goals all the same. (They may not be the greatest athlete of all time at all sports, but they have mastered their activity.)

Finally, it can be a challenge to compare an athlete who competed in a solo competition with a member of a well known sports organization or club. How do you look at the achievements of, say, a boxer like Muhammad Ali alongside an athlete like Michael Jordan, who had to not only perform to his own best abilities but work as a cohesive unit along with other members of his team? These are the questions that must be answered when compiling a list of the world's greatest all-time athletes.

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list ordered by

1
35,353 17,472
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
32,533 16,595
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
21,156 16,394
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
17,103 17,937
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added Julius Erving "Dr J" age 67

5
18,458 15,915
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
28,374 15,443
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

7
27,573 13,865
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

8
20,388 14,029
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

9
15,933 17,387
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 49

10
15,628 14,304
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

11
11,590 13,547
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

12
29,146 14,977
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

13
11,490 13,441
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

14
23,723 14,994
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

15
28,727 16,388
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 31

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16
24,091 16,750
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

17
16,170 14,505
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

18
14,351 13,013
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

19
15,682 11,312
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
13,953 12,642
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

21
14,224 10,848
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

22
14,961 11,554
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

23
14,733 13,681
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

24
14,428 13,797
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 49

25
10,162 12,004
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

26
14,812 10,762
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

27
15,029 10,998
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

28
14,015 10,630
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

29
14,777 10,926
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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30
13,847 12,138
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

31
13,832 12,504
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

32
14,237 12,882
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

33
14,258 13,160
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

34
13,331 11,805
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

35
14,381 10,435
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
14,158 10,500
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

37
12,713 10,512
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

38
13,037 11,853
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

39
14,578 13,273
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

40
12,468 11,293
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

41
13,144 10,694
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

42
13,013 10,171
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

43
14,002 12,172
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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44
12,408 11,317
Zico is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

45
9,261 10,909
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

46
13,151 11,552
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

47
14,343 10,935
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

48
12,918 11,434
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 49

49
12,188 10,860
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

50
13,736 12,392
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paavo Nurmi Died at 76 (1897-1973)